When people talk about climate change, they talk about hope. They discuss prospects, ifs thens, and perceived inevitabilities. In the end or from the very beginning the chatter settles around two questions, asked as synonyms:
Do you have hope?
Are you hopeful?
Around two months ago I was couchsurfing with a woman in Guilin (桂林）, one of the backpacker centers of China. It had been a long afternoon of tea and hot sun. Around evening two other couchsurfers returned to the apartment. They were brothers from Germany. The smaller one, who somehow seemed the elder of the two, had studied public policy for a semester in Beijing, and he and I began talking about 360bybike and his work. Eventually he popped the question.
Are you hopeful?
he asked, meaning
Do you have hope?
It happens on occasion with new acquaintances, that a whole conversation winds around a central difference of perspective. Hidden, woven through talk of political possibility and art in social change, Are you hopeful? threw our discord into relief. In such light, he was a pessimist of a mild but bitter varietal and I an optimist with only loose tethers to reality.
They are questions like that one which are both fascinating and wholly misdirected. Our answers (Me: We have to. He: How could I?) show only distorted relief, shadows cast from light too weak or far away. The half-truth pestered me for weeks afterwards, the question’s gentle condescension tearing at whatever convictions I had built up at the time. Are you really spending years on such a nebulous project, it elaborated, how do you even measure any change you bring, and for God’s sake, how did we get on this road we’re on, even after so much effort.
After some weeks, a thought percolated down to consciousness.
I play the piano in my spare time. I started when I was young but I didn’t stick with it, dropped it in middle school in exchange for drums which were cooler. My fingers are not clever now, but I practice when I can. Last year I practiced in a building with all of the windows painted open or broken. The pianos were hand-me-downs from my school’s music majors, with keys stuck and pedals broken and none of them in tune. The sidewalk filled with the sound of all 30 or so pianos at once–they were always occupied–notes after notes that always seemed to be falling in a great torrent.
Now I carry a copy of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in folder with my visa paperwork. There’s never a universal opinion on art, but it seems that every time the piece comes up someone says “Oh! That’s my favorite. It’s so beautiful.” Then there’s a pause, and someone, sometimes even the same person, says “But it’s so sad.”
I love it too, the way it feels when played, quiet and even and true. But not sad. The voice of it reaches places of pain and of sorrow, but then it keeps going. It writhes free, it notes fragments of the world beyond itself, the tree with the lights in it and the multitudes within.
When I play that piece, I feel neither sadness or hope, but an abiding cousin of each, one that holds through storms and drought and long nights. Constant.
I’ve met too many activists betrayed by the momentum of society. Listless, they soldier on out of duty alone. I’ve met too many others whose high hopes, intact or ruined, numb them to the urgency of change. Such an unstable relationship with hope is unhealthy, and leaves too much room for inaction. I suggest that we ought to be hopeful but never hold too tightly to any one source, that hope for such large scale issues is to be found on a much smaller scale, and that its fragments lie in stories given voice.
5 thoughts on “Hope in the Discussion of Climate Change”
Reblogged this on Green Living 4 Live.
I also have been thinking about hope since one of our Skype conversations. During that conversation, you talked about people asking you if you had hope. You said that question didn’t make much sense to you. You said that if you had hope, someone could take it away. I recall a silence after that, in which I realized, and said, that if you live hope, no one can take it away.
Since then, I have been thinking about living hope. I think there is a strength in living hope that I cannot maintain in just having hope. I remember first realizing this in 1979, at age 21, when I returned to the US after spending a year in Guatemala. I felt such mixed feelings of despair and joy and gratitude: despair at the violence in the country, the disparity between rich and poor, and the role of the US in supporting the corrupt government; joy at the memories of the beauty of the land and the people; grateful for the generosity and kindness of my Mayan neighbors in the highland community where I lived. When I returned to Eugene, I worked with a group that supported human rights movements in Latin America. I felt hope. Only when I stopped working with the group to concentrate on my studies did despair overwhelm me..
Since then, I have always tried to live my ideals, to live hope. I have chosen a job where I can contribute to the health of others, and have joined others in volunteer activities. Our family lives simply, and works to diminish our use of the earth’s resources. We have a long way to go, but I think we are on the right path.
At times though, like when I look at graphs of human population growth and of extinction of species, or hear of some people still refusing to acknowledge the science of climate change and even to open their eyes and see the clear evidence around them, or read of people choosing enormous personal profit over the health of the earth and wellbeing of others, I feel a deep despair, and see my actions as futile.
But then I think of you riding your bike and writing of others living hope, and I think of Maia, communicating hope and ideals by reaching people’s souls through her art. I see that glimmer of hope again, and keep living my hope.
It may be true that my actions are futile. The amount of greenhouse gases in the air is already causing climate change, and the projection of effects on the earth in the future is grim. The rate of species extinction is similar to that in previous mass extinctions. We are already in the sixth extinction.
But living hope is also the way I live love. As I ride my bicycle to work in the morning, I think of you riding your bike and think of Maia painting the beauty of the earth. I think of the Cascade mountain meadows and the Oregon Coast I so love. I have no illusions that my bicycle trip makes any dent in the greenhouse gases, or that I am inspiring anyone else to ride his or her bike. Living hope is living love. I bicycle a prayer for the world. Nobody can take this hope, this love, this prayer from me. It is who I am.
I also know that I am not alone. Not only are you, Maia and other family members living hope, but also thousands in our community. They are recycling, changing laws on pesticide spraying, improving education for all children, serving breakfast to the homeless, building homes for those without, trying to interrupt cycles of abuse, neglect and discrimination. And now I know there are people in Hong Kong, Jishou, Guangzhou and Hanoi who live their ideals as well. There are so many in the world. Communicating lives of hope helps keep that hope alive. Keep it up.
LikeLiked by 1 person
For some reason, this reminded me of a video of Wendell Berry that I saw last winter. In it he said many wise things, but one in particular stuck with me. He was speaking of the environmental mess that we as a species have gotten ourselves into. He also spoke of how so many seem to be looking for The Big Solution. And when their proposed big solution causes its own set of problems they are so surprised. No, he said: there is not one solution to the world’s problems. If we are to get out of this mess, it’s going to take many small solutions, from many people and many groups. You’re on an amazing odyssey that’s one of the many solutions that are happening around the world. Good going.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks! I agree. It seems to me that the best solutions match their corresponding problems in size and scope. I hope that having the internet in the picture can help increase the visibility of smaller projects and make them more viable.